- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2015

The National Institutes of Health is using hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on grants to study the best ways to get gay people to quit smoking and abusing drugs and alcohol.

The University of Illinois at Chicago has spent over $435,000 since 2010 to carry out a “culturally targeted and individually tailored smoking cessation study” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) smokers, according to the grant information published by the NIH.

Additionally, NIH gave the University of Pittsburgh $43,120 to study tobacco and alcohol use trajectories in “sexual-minority emerging adults” and has awarded over $178,000 to Columbia University to research substance abuse disparities in sexual minority youths.

Taxpayer watchdogs say the agency’s focused grants contradict liberal talking points on equality by using federal money to push a special interest agenda rather than spending it to research general health concerns.

“The assumption that LGBTs are somehow biologically or psychologically different contradicts everything the left tells us, and it makes absolutely no sense to create programs around these interest groups,” said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government. “This has the appearance of special interest pandering rather than real public health concerns.”

For using tax dollars to fund special interest grants instead of studies that address national health concerns, the NIH wins the Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting examples of wasteful or questionable federal spending.

According to NIH, recent data indicates that gay people experience “substantial health disparities,” including significantly higher rates of substance abuse and related health consequences like HIV compared to their heterosexual peers.

“Prevention research often focuses on understanding unique risk factors among high-risk populations to drive the development of targeted interventions that address the specific needs of those populations. This research will help to identify strategies to reduce health disparities in sexual and gender minority populations,” a spokeswoman for NIH said in an email to The Washington Times.

Some studies have shown that smoking is one of the top health issues facing gays. LGBT Americans spend more on cigarettes than all pro-gay advocacy causes combined, according to data from the Network for LGBT Health Equity. Of 33 total surgeon general’s reports on smoking, only three mention how the issue affects the LGBT community.

Michael Pinto, a spokesperson for the ACLU, admitted that smoking and substance abuse have no intrinsic link to being gay, but said the data on increased smoking and substance abuse rates among sexual minorities warrant the NIH studies.

“It is entirely appropriate for health studies like this to focus on uniquely vulnerable populations,” Mr. Pinto said.

The NIH’s studies aim is to estimate patterns of alcohol and tobacco use for sexual minority populations, examine childhood events that could predict tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse among gay people and measure the health consequences for adults.

But critics say that NIH shouldn’t use taxpayer money to fund special studies for gay smokers and substance abusers apart from their heterosexual counterparts.

“LGBT people say they are just like everybody else, so then why do they need special money to track LGBT smoking? Because LGBT researchers want to feed at the government trough,” said Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition.

Experts say that the grants demonstrate a bias toward the Obama administration’s political platform and highlighted how President Obama has steered science funding toward pro-gay projects.

“Despite the fact that people would like to believe that federal science funding is unbiased toward political platforms, presidential administrations wield tremendous power in shifting research priorities to meet their own political goals, including supporting lobbies that helped elect them to power in the first place,” said Romina Boccia, a research fellow in budgetary affairs at the Heritage Foundation. “In the words of one of the most powerful LGBT lobbies, ‘President Obama’s legacy of progress for the LGBT community is unmatched in history,’ and among this list of accomplishments it includes steering research funding toward studying the LGBT community.”

At the request of HHS, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report in March 2011 detailing the range of areas in which more research is needed on gay health. Then, in Jan. 2013, the NIH responded to the IOM report and specified that the research needs of the gay health issues span a number of institutes, centers and offices within NIH.

This isn’t the first time NIH has used federal money for gay-targeted studies. In 2014 the agency came under fire for spending $3 million to study lesbian obesity, and the study is still ongoing. In 2011 it was revealed that NIH surveyed gay men as part of a 10-year study that yielded a 2009 report titled “The Association Between Penis Size and Sexual Health Among Men Who Have Sex with Men.”

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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